Community Theatre vs. College

There are times when I meet students who are on the surface very passionate about theatre and want to major in it, but as I dig deeper, I begin to believe they are passionate about Community Theatre but not ready for professional theatre or training.  This is tough to talk about and you can never know if you are 100% right or not, but it needs to be discussed.  Below are a few of the common issues that come up and a discussion of the differences.

“I want to major in musical theatre because its fun and I love it!”

Community Theatre is fun.  College and Professional theatre is HARD WORK!  Here is a typical day in the life of a musical theatre student.

7:00 a.m.  Wake-up/Shower/Eat

8:00 a.m.  – 9:30 a.m. – Dance Class

9:30  a.m. – 10:30 a.m. – Voice Lesson (no time to shower in-between)

10:30 a.m.- 11:30 a.m. – Math

11:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. – Check email/breathe

12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. – Acting Class

1:30 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. – Eat

2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. – Music Theory

3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. – Voice Studio Class

4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. – Practice (by yourself in a practice room)

5:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. – Meeting for Theatre Service Organization

6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. – Drive home for dinner, shower, drive back to campus

7:00 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. – Rehearsal (study in the wings for tomorrow’s exam)

10:30 p.m. – 11:30 p.m. – Rehearsal for Scene Study for next day’s class

11:30 p.m. – 11:45 p.m. – Drive home

11:45 p.m. – 12:15 a.m. – Catch up on email

12:15 a.m. – 12:30 a.m. – Read assignment for tomorrow’s class

12:30 a.m. – 7:00 a.m. – Sleep

7:00 a.m. – Wake-up and do it all again!

I’m serious about this schedule.  I’m not kidding.  Its based off of the schedules for the students I advise and its also based off of my own personal real life experience, only in my case, I also managed to schedule 20-30 hours of work a week while carrying 20-22 credits per semester.

“I know lots of musicals: Phantom, Wicked, Les Mis, and Spring Awakening”

Its common to have a few favorite musicals and for those musicals to be the big name ones that most people listen to.  What bothers me is if I suggest a student listen to shows like Carousel, My Fair Lady, Oklahoma, etc. and they never do or tell me they don’t like that kind of music.  In the real world, you sing lots of rep you don’t like, but you sing it because it pays the bills.  When a student doesn’t take the time to learn about the music they will be expected to perform for the rest of their life, it makes me wonder if they are a fan or a performer?

“I work really hard, I take dance, acting, and voice lessons”

Studying the subjects you are expected to be good at is not a sign of hard work.  Its your job!  Hard work is living by the schedule I listed above.  Hard work is staying up 20 hours on 5 hours of sleep because that is the only way you can get everything done.  Hard work is holding on to 3 jobs in the summer, working 80 hours a week, in order to make sure you have enough money to not work during the school year so you can focus on your craft.  There is a big difference between community and college/professional theatre – its not always fun.

“I want to go to college so I can be on Broadway”

Hundreds of people go to college every year for theatre, few make it to Broadway, many more make a living in the arts.  Dreams are great, I am not a dream crusher, but if Broadway is your only goal and the only thing that will make you happy, in my opinion, that is a community theatre mind set, not a professional point of view.  If you look at the real pros, they work on national tours, TV, commercials, in the recording studio, teach here and there, and do a gig on Broadway from time to time when they get lucky.  That’s the reality of life in the arts, the people who accept the reality and explore all of their options are usually the people who work non-stop.  Those who only go for Broadway because its their dream often miss out on great connections, great experiences, and great opportunities found outside of Broadway theatres.  Open your mind to the possibilities and you never know what can happen.

“I love making people laugh!”

There is a need for comedy, but there is more to acting than living for the laugh.  Real actors know how to act in all types of dramas as well as comedies.  Comedic parts get instant reaction and approval, but a professional actor is interested more in the satisfaction they get from an entire performance and the lifestyle, not just the laughs they get on the stage.

If after reading this you find yourself realizing you really identify with the community theatre mindset, there is nothing wrong with that.  However, you may want to really examine whether or not you should be putting all of your eggs in one basket.  Theatre life is hard.  If you want to perform for fun, there will always be community theatres, if not you can easily start your own.  But you don’t want to realize this about yourself AFTER you have $50,000 in debt.  There is nothing wrong with changing your mind, if you think maybe you need to, start reading everything you can about the business and talking to professionals in your community.  Follow your gut instinct and don’t be afraid to take time off to think.  In Europe, many students start college training between 20 and 21, those 2-3 years can make a HUGE difference.


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